Poor blighted country. Trinidad and Tobago seems to have a generational curse of tragic buffoon politicians who continually bungle the relatively simple job of facilitating the energy and development of a nation blessed with billions of dollars of oil and gas wealth, a paradisaical climate, and an unprecedented legacy of heroism, and creative and sporting genius.
One political genetic flaw seems to be pure naked greed. Another is stupidity at the service of over-bounding ego - normally crowned by a doctorate or a lawyer's letter. Be they corrupt or dunce, they have made a mess of us. Sadly 'they do not know that they do not know'...
On one side we have brilliant national plans dreamed about by our visionary class. On the other we have the flat-footed cluelessness of our political class who've now dragged a shining Republic down into the squalour of a ghetto of spirit. Nowhere was this incompetence more clearly on show than in the rolling out of the nation's 50th anniversary celebrations.
Two years ago in budget negotiations with the Honourable PM and Ministers I mentioned our impending 50th anniversary. Most did not know. This might've been the beginning of their planning.
This past year should have been a journey into our beginnings, our history, and our genius. The 50th anniversary of our Independence, the 75th anniversary of the Butler Riots and trade union movement, the 100th anniversary of calypso. So many magic anniversaries. How was it possible to bungle such an easy task? All the material was there: our stunning history of achievement, a population hungry to touch their glory. Yet our politicians managed to cheapen and debase it all.
Compare what we did to the magic of the London Olympics. The efficiency of hundreds of events coordinated like clockwork, brilliantly covered by well-trained television teams, opening and closing ceremonies that honoured generations of British artists. London knew it had one shot- it chose to lead its case to the world with its Arts… They will now reap billion dollar benefits.
The difference between London and us was that London hired brilliant event-planners and visionary directors to dream and co-ordinate events. T&T's entire 50th anniversary was planned by Ministries and executed through the Public Service. So if you found plenty work wasn't getting done these last eight months- it was because ministerial staffs were planning concerts. Do you think London's Olympics would have come off if it was conceived by their equivalent of our Ministry of Planning?. This centralising of decision-making and creative-thinking into Ministers and the civil service is dangerous.
T&T had all the stars lined up for us. Our politicians conspired to tear them all down from the sky. London's Olympics provided T&T a unique opportunity to use its former colonial ruler as a staging ground for an attack of our creative industries on the world. We should have unleashed our greatest talents in choreographed venues in London and New York at a moment when we have global attention through our celebrities like Nicki Minaj, Theophlius London, Tatyana Ali, Sam Mendes, Anya, Heather Headley. Such moments don't come along often so they must be used wisely.
Listen to missed opportunities: Local activist Josanne Leonard and Trini genius Keith Khan (who resigned as Head of Culture of the London Olympics) created an initiative called Caribbean Calling where they got major London venues- like the Barbican- to open main-stages to Caribbean content. The waiting list for such venues is two years but we were hand-delivered them at Olympic time. Trini activists also lobbied London to fund a Carnival Village in the heart of the Olympics. T&T was also offered premium spaces in the Olympic Cultural Village. Our politicians conspired to spit on every single one of these opportunities. T&T's sole real presence in London for Olympics 2012 was at a mini-venue called Tricycle Theatre 20 minutes by train from the Olympic Village!
Meanwhile Jamaica understood and seized space at London's premier O2 stadium with a week-long event featuring four generations of Jamaica's best filmmakers, musicians (featuring the Marleys) theatre people, and more. Income-earning events! Tens of thousands attended. Jamaica knew its brand presence needed to be strong to coincide with victories it expected from its track athletes. The benefits will be in the hundreds of millions.
Meanwhile back here there were more disasters—sins of omission and commission. Where were our geniuses Peter Minshall, Leroy Clarke, Earl Lovelace, Horace Ove, Colin Laird, Billy Ocean, Geoffrey Holder, adopted son Derek Walcott and others? How can we contemplate the 50th celebrations without the involvement of our best? Since 2010 the Artists' Coalition gave this government templates of how to facilitate the 50th anniversary so it would fulfil long-term agendas of the cultural sector leaving substantial legacy institutions.
These were reinforced by the Expert Panel for Culture's proposals including ideas from the late Pat Bishop. Nothing was done. Instead about $100 million was spent with next to nothing to show.